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Why stop now? Legacy rewritten, Cats out to make history

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John Calipari and the Wildcats talk to reporters about their Elite Eight matchup with Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari and the Wildcats talk to reporters about their Elite Eight matchup with Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - Ironic as it may seem, in the moment of the games and in the aftermath of two classics, the Kentucky Wildcats have little appreciation for the types of victories they've been a part of in the last week.

"We all talked about it on the bus after, that everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic, and we're like, we're so tired, we don't know," John Calipari said. "We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game - we just know we won."

Proud owners of the NCAA Tournament's two most impressive victories - wins over top-seeded and previously undefeated Wichita State, followed by a comeback over defending national champion Louisville - Kentucky (27-10) has erased the disappointment of the regular season and rewritten how this team will be remembered no matter what happens going forward.

But now that the Cats have made it this far, why stop here? If they've gone through all this trouble, why not finish it off right?

That was the mindset of Andrew Harrison on Saturday barely 12 hours removed from his team's resilient victory over its archrival in the Sweet 16. He said he was too tired to begin with to even bask in Friday's win, but he also paid little attention to the celebration pictures in Lexington with second-seeded Michigan (28-8) on the horizon.

"It's hard (to move on) because we're a young team," Andrew Harrison said. "After a game like that you just feel so relieved. But now I think it's bigger than that. It's bigger than any individual. No one thought we would be here right now, so that just wants us to keep on fighting."

Given little shot to reach Dallas when the field was set two weeks ago, UK finds itself just a victory away from its third Final Four in four seasons after navigating a mine field that's been the toughest, seed wise, of any team still dancing.

The Cats are close enough to the Final Four to taste it, but they say they're not content with the magical ride they've already enjoyed.

"The only thing I can really focus on right now is Michigan," Andrew Harrison said. "I know they're a great team. A lot of people didn't even have us being here or losing to Wichita or Kansas State or whatever, but we just have to focus on Michigan right now."

John Calipari conceded contentment is on his list of concerns after two emotional victories.

"There's a chance for a letdown because the last two games we played were just like slugfests," he said. "But I don't think it will be based on you just played Louisville, now you're going to let your guard down. I don't think so."

Kentucky can ill-afford to lets its guard down against a Michigan team that is among the best in the country.

The Wolverines, last year's national runners-up, didn't just win the Big 10, a conference some regard as the best in the country, they won it by a three-game margin. Had they won their league tournament, which they lost in the Big Ten title game, the NCAA Selection Committee said they - not Virginia - would have ended up with the fourth No. 1 seed.

Michigan nearly did it, remarkably, without its best low-post player, Mitch McGary, who was lost for the season after just eight games due to back surgery.

"We had a plan in place because his injury happened early enough in late August, early September, that we virtually did all of our individuals without him," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "We had a month of practice in October without him. So we had that in place. When he came back, you know, then we started to work the other plan that we had over the summer. Then he went down again and we went back to plan A. So it was a fairly seamless change back to the original plan that we started in December."

The plan included making a whole lot of 3s - Michigan ranks fourth in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage and sixth in 3-point field goals made - and the best player you've probably never heard of, Nik Stauskas.

Combined, the two have been a pretty formidable force in the second half of the season where Michigan has won 10 of its last 11 games 22 of 26.

"If you give them 3s, they're making them," Calipari said. "So your hope is to make them tough 3s. They may make then anyway."

How to stop those Michigan treys?

"Dim the lights, open up some doors, hope there's a wind blowing," Coach Cal joked.

All jokes aside, a little good fortune may be the only way to slow down Stauskas, who scored 14 points in Michigan's nail-biter against Tennessee and has hit 90 3-pointers on the season at a 44.8-percent clip.

"You could say we're going to try to not let him shoot any balls, (but) he's going to get off 3s," Calipari said. "They're going to dribble at and run him off backdoor (screens) and he's going to get a lot of handoffs. You can't say he's a hard-right driver (because) he'll go either way.

"But you do know if you lose him in transition, if you lose him in penetration and he's open, don't even try to rebound it. Just run back. ... He's that good."

Kentucky's size on the perimeter could present challenges for Stauskas, but at 6-foot-6, he's had little trouble shooting over his smaller counterparts this year. UK will have little time to game plan for him with less than 24 hours until tip.

"I've got 16 hours to get to get these guys ready," Calipari said. "The good news is, well, (Beilein) had about 19 hours. So you don't have the time to go and say there's 12 things they're going to do. ... You just don't have time.

"It's going to be our best, hopefully, against their best and see who comes out on top."

If both are at their best, fans could be in for another classic. Judging by the recent swing of things, that bodes well for Kentucky in its quest to reach the Final Four.

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

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